How did you start?
I started orienteering age 15 (aah! 10 years ago!) when my best friend saw a poster in the school corridor. It was advertising a coaching course based at the Omagh leisure centre and run by Fermo club members. I don’t think I knew what orienteering was but I was willing to try it out. We went along each week, learning about the maps and simple navigation. There were several active families in the club who brought us to local events at weekends and occasionally the club hired a coach to travel further afield.
What made you continue?
It took a while for me to take to it – but club members were very encouraging and made a real effort to teach me the skills. I liked scrambling my way through the forest, over hills and across streams, seeing loads of new places in a unique way. Not everyone who went to the coaching kept it up but one girl did – Rosalind Hussey – and we’ve become firm friends, travelling together all over the country and abroad for orienteering. This included some very memorable training weekends with the Irish Junior Squad – unlike many sports the squad is open to juniors of all abilities who want to train, get better and may one day represent Ireland in international competition. The weekends were brilliant craic and really motivated me to keep orienteering.
What do you get out of orienteering?
It’s changed my life. Orienteering has taken me to places I would never have been otherwise, I’ve met a lot of wonderful, inspiring people and I am fitter and stronger than I ever knew I could be. I’ve travelled a lot with it: France, Norway, Estonia and Croatia are just a few amazing countries I’ve competed in. Every orienteering race is different so it never gets boring and there are always things I could have done better. It can be very frustrating – when you’ve spent a lot of time, effort, money getting to an event only to run poorly, but this has only made me more determined to succeed. Running at top speed over rough terrain and knowing exactly where you’re going is a great feeling. There’s a huge satisfaction when you reach the finish line knowing you’ve ran well and you did it all through your own brain and leg power.
Can you summarise your performance in orienteering / fell running?
As a junior I made full use of the NI Colour series – winning a colour each year before moving up to the next one. I often won my age class (W16, W18, W20) at the NI/Irish championship events. However I think I only started orienteering really well age 20, just in time for the Junior World Championships in Australia. That was a pretty exciting trip! I was well out of my depth but it gave me an insight into what I could do if I kept training. As a senior I’m most proud of winning the Women’s Elite title at the Irish Championships (2009 and 2011) and I’ve been inching ever closer to my goal of making the Long distance final at the World Championships.
I started fell running later, age 21, and I gradually improved. Winning the Mourne Mountain Marathon (with fellow orienteer, Declan McGrellis) was a real highlight, winning it again the following year even more so! This year (2012) has been really successful – I set both the ladies’ course records for the Annalong horseshoe (the longest fell run in NI) and Sl Donard (highest mountain in NI), took 3rd place at the NI round of the British Championships and won the Hill and Dale series. I’ll be moving to Scotland soon and it’s nice to have achieved all this, it feels like I’ve left something of myself behind.
What sort of training do you do?
Realising I needed to get fitter if I wanted to be good at orienteering, I started running laps of the grounds at Omagh leisure centre after school. My mum would bring me out to Gortin forest at the weekend and I’d run on the trails there. I remember it was a real achievement to last 20mins non-stop. My training now is a lot more structured – a typical week would be a steady run (Mon), track session (Tues), easy run (Wed), tempo run (Thurs), and a long terrain run or orienteering at the weekend. I enjoy the terrain runs the most, the track and tempo are necessary evils to build speed.
What are your aims/hopes for the future? (both this year and the next few years)
In the next few weeks I’ll be competing at the World Orienteering Championships in Switzerland. I hope I can make the finals this time – I am certainly the fittest I’ve ever been and I have a lot of experience, but you never know how an orienteering race will go! I will certainly be giving it my all though.
Scotland is a great place for orienteering so I intend to keep up my training there. The World Championships will be there in 2015 so a few years training in similar terrain would be a huge advantage. I would like to do more fell running also and I hope one day I can represent Ireland in this sport as well. Either way, there are lots more forests and mountains awaiting me!
A final note…
I would like to thank Fermo for all their support over the years. I would never have achieved all I have if it wasn’t for their tireless efforts to teach me the skills and bring me to events. It takes time to learn how to orienteer and get the most out of it, but I hope anyone reading this will persevere, especially those new to it, because it truly is an excellent sport.